1. One team wasn’t part of the National Football League.
In June 1966, the venerable National Football League (NFL) signed an agreement to merge with the upstart, seven-year-old American Football League (AFL) after the completion of the 1969 season. In the interim, the two rival leagues agreed to stage an annual season-ending contest between their respective champions. The first Super Bowl featured the Green Bay Packers, who had defeated the Dallas Cowboys to win the NFL title, against the Kansas City Chiefs, who had beaten the Buffalo Bills to capture the AFL crown. Legendary Packers coach Vince Lombardi, who had never so much as watched an AFL game on television, was wound extra tight leading up to the game. He felt pressure not only to win—but to win big. “We got to win by 21 points to prove that the National Football League is superior to the AFL,” Lombardi told his team, which were 13.5-point favorites. The Packers ultimately won by 25 points.
2. The inaugural game was not officially known as the “Super Bowl.”
AFL principal founder and Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt suggested that the new championship game be known as the “Super Bowl,” an idea inspired by the ultra-bouncy Super Ball toy from Wham-O—producers of the Frisbee and Hula Hoop—that was popular with his kids and millions of others across America in the 1960s. NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, however, thought the name too gimmicky and lacking the weight worthy of his league. He suggested calling the championship game the “Pro Bowl” or even “The Big One” before settling on the “AFL-NFL World Championship Game.” That was quite a mouthful, however, for fans, journalists and broadcasters who instead followed Hunt’s lead and referred to the game informally as the “Super Bowl.” Not until the championship game’s third edition did Rozelle agree to follow suit and officially refer to the game as the Super Bowl.
3. The location of the game wasn’t decided until just weeks before kickoff.
While host cities are now selected upwards of three years in advance, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was not named as the site of the first Super Bowl until six weeks before kickoff. “The big game was a thrown-together affair, hastily organized. It was, in some ways, an afterthought to the merger agreement,” writes author Harvey Frommer in “When It Was Just a Game: Remembering the First Super Bowl.”
4. There were over 32,000 empty seats.
It may be hard to believe today, but the first Super Bowl was not a sellout—far from it. Official attendance in the cavernous, 94,000-seat Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum failed to top 62,000. (A month earlier, more than 72,000 fans had passed through the stadium’s turnstiles to watch the Packers play the hometown Los Angeles Rams.) Many fans complained about the high ticket prices, which topped out at $12, while others were simply not interested. According to Frommer, a thief who robbed the Chiefs’ safe before the game took the money stashed inside but left behind the 2,000 game tickets next to it. The vast swathes of open seats might have had an upside, however. Just after the opening kickoff, a huge wrought-iron hand from the coliseum’s giant scoreboard clock plunged 50 feet after its remote-control system malfunctioned. Had the seats below been occupied, the mishap could have been deadly.
5. The game aired simultaneously on two networks.
Both CBS, which held the rights to broadcast NFL games, and NBC, which aired AFL games, paid $1 million for the rights to televise the first Super Bowl. While CBS produced the feed of the game, each network employed its own broadcast crews. The two networks fought for ratings points as furiously as the two teams on the field, and NBC ultimately emerged with a slightly larger audience. It remains the only joint broadcast in Super Bowl history.
6. Fifteen million people were barred from watching the game.
Although the Super Bowl aired on two networks, NFL rules at the time required that its games be blacked out in the local vicinity. That meant that 15 million viewers within a 75-mile radius of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum could not watch the game without fashioning makeshift aerial antennae out of coat hangers and broomsticks in order to catch the signal from another television market.
7. The halftime show featured marching bands, rocket men and pigeons.
There were no big-time musical acts or wardrobe malfunctions at the Super Bowl’s first halftime show. No Beatles, no Rolling Stones, not even the Monkees. Instead, the Anaheim High School drill team joined marching bands from the University of Arizona and Grambling College high-stepping across the field. Two rocket men from Bell Aerosystems with jet packs filled with hydrogen peroxide launched themselves 100 feet into the air before landing on the 50-yard line. The halftime festivities peaked with the release of 10,000 helium-filled balloons and hundreds of pigeons, one of which according to Frommer left a Super Bowl souvenir on the typewriter of young sportswriter Brent Musburger, who would later host “The NFL Today” pre-game show on CBS.
8. There were two second-half kickoffs.
When the game resumed after the halftime show, the Packers kicked the ball off to the Chiefs—a play that half the country missed because NBC was still in a commercial break because a previous sideline interview with entertainer Bob Hope had run long. To the displeasure of Lombardi, referees whistled the play dead and told Green Bay to kick the ball off a second time.
9. The Chiefs and Packers used two different types of footballs.
The two rival leagues used two competing football brands, and both were employed in the first Super Bowl. When on offense, the Packers played with the official NFL ball, “The Duke” by Wilson. When possession switched to the Chiefs, they used Spalding’s J5-V, which was easier to pass because it was slightly skinnier and longer.
10. The coaches sported their Sunday best.
Windbreakers and hooded sweatshirts may be the height of fashion among NFL coaches today, but the two opposing field generals in the first Super Bowl sported a more formal look. Chiefs coach Hank Stram prowled the sidelines in a dark blazer, white collar shirt, tie and slacks while Packers coach Vince Lombardi wore a short-sleeve dress shirt and tie.